Faded Magic

Alan Zendell, March 15, 2018

Every year, toy manufacturers come up with a new set of flashy playthings. They’re brightly colored and they promise hours of fun. Our kids see them in TV commercials and on store shelves, and leading up to birthdays and holidays we’re treated to a months long litany of “Daddy, can I have that?” and “Mommy, please buy that for me.”

The promises abound — so easy to assemble a five-year-old could do it; the most challenging and exciting item on the market; so durable your children will play with it for years; and everyone’s favorite – batteries included.

We’ve all experienced the reality, however. The box contains 150 parts, but a few of the critical pieces are missing. The assembly instructions were originally written in Mandarin and translated into English by an Albanian technician whose native language is Turkish, and you wind up throwing them away. When the thing is finally assembled, the kids play with it for a week, when it either breaks or bores them to death. We’ve been had, and we resolve that we won’t let it happen again.

The thing is, that’s not really what happened. We weren’t fooled. Some of us knew all that would happen when we let ourselves be distracted by the flash and flare, like it usually does when we don’t do our homework. But we hadn’t yet learned to not be tempted by the serpent, so we did it anyway.

A collaboration between Abraham Lincoln and W. C. Fields might read: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull, and you’ll sometimes fool everyone.” That’s a pretty good description of the American political scene for the last thirty-two months. Yes, that’s how long we’ve been listening to Donald Trump’s rants and cringing to his tweets. It was flashy and dazzling at first, and in the absence of a candidate that captured the hearts of the majority, the flash and bang won out over the bland and sometimes incompetent.

Many of those who bought all that stuff now realize what a pile of crap they wound up with. They’re the ones Lincoln meant when he (may have) said, “you cannot fool all the people all the time.” The glitter disappears, the brightness dims, and what seemed magical a few months ago is revealed as illusion. When the magic fades we’re left with the tragi-comical little man behind the curtain. And he’s steering the ship.

The fake wizard is still a great showman. When he dons his cape and turns on the cameras he can still throw a mean rally. Like an aging drug-addled rock star, he still fills the arena with screaming fans. They are as loud and raucous as ever, but that obscures a cautionary fact. There’s a noticeable difference in the audience. Every seat is occupied by a true believer and there are fewer in line waiting to get in. The curiosity seekers are gone. So are the disenchanted lost souls who’d been seeking something to believe in because they felt betrayed by the other side. They now know this isn’t what they were looking for. The magic has faded and we are left with what’s real, and for most of the country, it’s a darker reality than they faced a year ago.

With the magic gone, when we look inside the White House we find the same spoiled brat bully whose father had to send him away to military school. But the hoped-for discipline didn’t change him for the better. It didn’t make him any more moral or sensitive to other people. It simply hardened him against the cruel world in which everyone was against him. It made him unable either to trust or be trusted, and it heightened his narcissism and need for adulation.

Let’s hope that next time the parties choose substance over glitz. Conor Lamb showed us that there are a lot of good people out there with both strength and integrity who have no need to raise their voices or intimidate anyone. This isn’t about politics or parties. It’s about being honest with ourselves about how we got we are, and it is definitely not all Donald Trump’s fault. The Democrats rigged their primary and wound up with a hobbled candidate who couldn’t overcome her own missteps.

There are a lot of competent people out there whose principles are strong enough to survive without some radical ideology, who care about public service and understand what making America great again really means. If we can find a few of those who can generate a different sort of magic, we’ll get through this unscathed.

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